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New leaders to learn what's against law

The learning curve begins Tuesday night for newly elected members of the McMinnville Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., a session will offer insight into how not to break the state’s open meeting act.
City administrator David Rutherford says he will offer a “quick cursory review” of the city administrator position and how to avoid violating the state’s open meetings act.
“If they talk among themselves about issues and a decision is reached, they are in violation of the open meetings act,” said Rutherford. “I think it would be almost impossible for them to discuss items outside a meeting and not, at the very least, influence someone’s vote.”
Among other duties, the city administrator communicates with the full board regarding issues brought to him, makes recommendations, and provides requested information.
“They can avoid a possible violation by bringing issues to me,” said Rutherford. “I can communicate with the other board members without violating the law. If they want to discuss the issue, it can be added to the agenda and the public can be notified about the meeting.”
Officials will also receive a report from the city attorney Tim Pirtle on the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s letter sent to the city in early November after that office received a complaint about a possible open meetings act violation in September.
Specifically, the complaint surrounded a Sept. 25 meeting where officials voted to renew the contract of city administrator David Rutherford. The meeting’s agenda did not mention the measure, which was sent to the full board by Finance Committee members who met earlier that night. The item was added to the agenda once the full board meeting began.
In the letter dated Nov. 5, Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said he could not say for certain if McMinnville officials violated the open meetings act, but he encouraged them to confer with their attorney as a possible violation could prompt a resident to sue the city.
Pirtle drafted a reply letter on behalf of the board dated Nov. 13 that outlined the procedures taken Sept. 25, but it did not give a legal opinion from him if the board’s procedure violated the open meetings act. Only a court can decide, says Pirtle, if a violation occurred.
September’s meeting, as well as the letters and discussions that followed, occurred prior to the new board being seated Nov. 27. However, any changes in procedure as a result of the complaint will be in the hands of the new board.
Tuesday’s session will be held in the conference room on the third floor of city hall.


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